Day Nineteen - Appreciative August
Despite soaring petrol prices, hypocritical wars and 'help' provided by the US (and us) for not-so-pure reasons and the expense of buying hybrids, I'm grateful for the cars in my life.
Starting with the Holden, pictured above, brand spanking new with its owner, my mother, on her honeymoon in 1964. As the full time bank worker, it was her hard-earned that bought our family's first wheels because Dad was in his final year as a student (four years of medical school, then a year to round off a science degree, then practical teaching). As such, his only material contributions towards the commencement of their married life was a tartan blanket, transistor radio and some anodised mugs that are still used and kept in the glovebox.
In the early seventies it not considered a potential case for manslaughter for parents to say, "Now you stay here and behave yourself" and leave their children in the car whilst they nipped into the shop to get something. Thankfully mine never did this during oppressive heat or for times longer than about five minutes, but it was long enough. Long enough for my older brother and I to spot a 'long-haired layabout' (who'd clearly got up from his supine position in order for us to see him walking by) and yell out "Ya Maniac" at him whilst giggling, winding up the windows and locking the doors.
Mum recalls how seatbelt laws were non-existent, as were the actual belts in the back seat of the car. Baby Dave was simply stowed on the front bench seat between Mum and Dad in his wicker bassinette. Rob and I sat in the back - often on beach towels so that our skin didn't meld with the burning hot vinyl seats.
In 1973, they decided to trade in the Holden and get our beloved white Volvo. This beast could be heard a kilometre away and is therefore not recommended as a car left with its engine surreptitiously idling whilst the driver is looting a caravan or to sneak in under the carport when you're two hours past your curfew.
It survived literally hundreds of chunders from three kids in the back seat, featured in several weddings, could drive itself to Adelaide and Murray Bridge and back and saw us all learn to drive and get our P plates on it. Mum won a car rally in it with Dad being her wingman as the navigator: I distinctly remember her doing a classic donut in a paddock that sprayed cow shit and mud in all directions. Mum kicked arse in that car! Said machine lasted for twenty seven years when, in 2000, it was heartbreakingly 'given away' to a volvo parts guy and replaced with a soul-suckingly blah Commodore. Writing the commodore off completely was the only positive thing that came out of my mum's recent car accident. "I never ever liked it as much as the Volvo," she said. Neither did I.
My own car was Rodney the 1971 Renault 16TS - also known as the 'Flying Turd' - proudly purchased for $1600 in 1989 (as if my Harry high shorts, dodgy perm and sockless white shoes weren't a giveaway). He was always easy to spot in a crowded car park.
Dad found him for me so I suspect that only being able to nudge Rodders up to 80km per hour on the freeway wasn't a coincidence. He took me and the two other bridesmaids all the way to Whyalla for a wedding, decided to fling the front passenger door wide open when I was turning the roundabout at the airport and once deposited a huntsman spider down my aerobics cleavage when I flicked down the sunshade. I loved him but gave him away when I went to the UK and discovered later that he spent his final days on Kangaroo Island where he 'rests' still.
On my return to Australian in 1993, I enrolled in the Grad. Dip. Ed. course at Adelaide university because:
a) I qualified for Austudy;
b) my Dad, Aunties and grandparents had been teachers so maybe there was a genetic disposition lurking inside me somewhere; and
c) I didn't know what I wanted to be when I grew up.
Once again, Dad helped me find a student-budget-friendly vehicle to get me from A (Beulah Park, the pub, tennis, Murray Bridge, the shops) to B (uni, camping holidays, Melbourne, teaching pracs, the pub). Good old Volvo again - a 1971 two door version that Love Chunks immediately called 'The Sucked Crunchie' because its fetching 'safari orange' colour made it look as though the chocolate had been sucked off.
The bonus was that the butt-ugly contraption had been updated to gas, which was a godsend when 'Gogas' (which I honestly thought was one word when I first saw it) was 18c a litre compared to 65c for petrol. The Sucked Crunchie is pictured here at Halls Gap - we took the photo and sent it to one of my UK mates, telling him that the roo was our pet, 'Wobbleboard'. To this day he still adds, "Say 'Gday' to Wobbleboard for me," as a post script.
A few years later found us both in sensible jobs (that's right, not teaching) and living in Darwin. Love Chunks' 1976 Ford Cortina made the trip up, but not my volvo. This had been LC's one and only vehicle since first year uni. It wasn't coping with the heat or in fact any kind of 'please drive me somewhere' demands required of it and quite truly conked out in front of the Darwin used car and scrap metal yard. This meant that Love Chunks' haggling abilities were somewhat restricted and a short time later he returned home, tearful and silent in a taxi, holding a fifty buck note. We went out for dinner that night and the meal cost, yes, you guessed it - fifty bucks. We had eaten the Cortina. A week later, we bought a lawn mower costing $450. He didn't take it kindly when I said it was nine Cortinas and still can't laugh about it now.
Being Darwin, the mere act of walking to the letterbox left us dripping in sweat, so a car with air-conditioning was in order. Not to drive to the letterbox necessarily but for general travelling comfort. In 1995 we bought a 1991 Suzuki Vitara. It was the very first time that either of us had ever owned car from the decade we were actually living in: "It's from the nineties!"
Here I am in a dodgy haircut, Mindil market batik top and holding our tiny new puppy Tess, looking at the white wonder. (Well, the second white wonder when you consider my own pale English rose skin and legs that are quite rightly often compared to fluoro tubes).
LC used to pick me up from work in this car, with Tess sitting in the passenger seat, panting happily. "Yes, I'm completely comfortable with my sexuality", he said, as I'd hop in laughing.
As Tess grew older, we rued the fact that our two door jobbie didn't have the capacity for a dog barrier as she'd stand on the tape and map holder between the seats and lick us in equal measures as we drove along. Pushing her back only made her wedge her furry face in between the drivers' seat and the door, which earned the driver several wet and smelly slurps on the neck.
When we were in Melbourne five years later and it was apparent that Sapphire was indeed arriving and was not an enormous case of Bali belly we knew that the Suzuki would not be large enough or safe enough to carry a baby capsule and the half-tonne of paraphernalia that an eight pound human being requires in order to be placed in a car. The Vitara was sold to a florist whilst I was pacing the kitchen, writing down the time shortening between each contraction. I waved to the excited purchaser from the safety of the kitchen, unwilling to open my mouth in case "Dear God my arse has split all the way up to the back of my neck, make it STOP!" slipped out.
And thus, Maggie the 1996 Mitsubishi arrived in 1999. Ex-government, low mileage and clearly sends the message that you're about as single, carefree and wild as Old Mother Hubbard on a turnip run.
She's a bit bingled (yes, all me), stained (all Sapphire), hairy (Milly, and even some of Tess's hairs are still in there) and muddy (Love Chunks), but she hasn't let us down. Ever. She's hauled dogs, rabbits, camping equipment, IKEA flatpacks, plants, chook manure, straw, helium-filled balloons, sugared-up children, envirobags and bricks without a whine or chug of complaint.
She may very well be the oldiest and daggiest car in our increasingly-aspirational avenue, but we love her. (I still dream of owning another Volvo, next car around).